Instrumental and gratuitous violence: the torture and death of Gul Rahman in the CIA Salt Pit

Joseph Pugliese*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


This essay examines the torture and death of Gul Rahman in the CIA secret prison/black site known as the Salt Pit, located in northern Kabul, Afghanistan. Virtually excised from the public record, his name and death are mentioned in footnote 28 of the Classified Response to the US Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility Classified Report. This report, prepared by Counsel for Jay S. Bybee, is a detailed and lengthy repost to the accusation made by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) that Judge Bybee's memo (1 August 2002) to Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, authorized some forms of torture that contravened the US Torture Statute - 18 U.S.C. § 2340, which defines torture and declares it to be a federal crime. In its Report, the OPR concludes that Judge Bybee 'committed professional misconduct'. In what follows, I proceed to discuss the details of Gul Rahman's torture and death in the CIA Salt Pit in the context of the Bybee memo and his Counsel's response to the OPR's condemnatory report in order to flesh out the relations of legal and governmental power that were instrumental in establishing US regimes of torture and death in the CIA secret prisons. In delineating the forces that were operative in the torture and death of Rahman, I proceed to identify two intersecting modalities of violence - instrumental and gratuitous. In the concluding section of this essay, my analysis of the torture and death of Rahman is framed by the literal and tropological dimensions of redaction, as that legal process that edits and censors a document of any secret or sensitive information. I argue that the process of redaction must be seen as producing, analogically, its own discursive black sites of silence, loss and death.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-91
Number of pages20
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


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